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Australian Biblical Review


ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 59, 2011

HANS-GEORG VON MUTIUS, Nichtmasoretische Bibelzitate im Midrasch ha-Gadol (13./14. Jahrhundert) (Judentum und Umwelt 80; Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2010). Pp. xxi + 124. Hardback. SFR 48.00.

The task of text (or “lower”) criticism of biblical books used to be undertaken as a search for the “original” readings by careful collation of all the available evidence. In the case of the Hebrew Bible, since the sixteenth century the second Rabbinic Bible (1524-25), edited by Jacob ben-Hayyim ben Adoniyahu, became a virtual textus receptus. Hundreds of later printed editions were based on it. It is not known what sources were used, nor how critical decisions were made about the readings adopted. This heritage from pre-critical editing was not a satisfactory state of affairs. With the development of more principled methodology for textual criticism, evidence for variant readings that might, perhaps, be more authentic than those in modern printed editions of the Hebrew Bible was gathered from all eligible sources, beginning with manuscripts from before the introduction of printing and resorting to versions (translations into Greek, Aramaic, Latin, Syriac and other ancient languages). The Jewish practice of destroying used copies of biblical scrolls meant that few manuscripts from before the work of the Masoretic scholars were available. The dramatic exception was the recovery from a Genizah (store room for discarded MSS) in Cairo in the 1890s of more than 200,000 fragments of Hebrew MSS (tens of thousands of them biblical) from the ninth century onwards. From the period prior to that there was almost a complete absence of such evidence until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (from a few centuries around the turn of the eras), which include a little fewer than one thousand fragments of biblical writings. The importance of this evidence for the history of the text of the Hebrew Bible cannot be exaggerated. It has changed the whole enterprise.

At the same time, the recovery of the Aleppo Codex (about 925 CE) threw doubt on whether the Leningrad Codex (the basis of the most used current edition of the Hebrew Bible, BHS) can still be accepted as the best witness to the Masoretic tradition. The publication of the Jerusalem Crown (The Bible of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem), based on the Aleppo Codex and related manuscripts (2002) supplies an alternative to the Leningrad Codex. The question has now arisen whether the time has come for a completely fresh approach to the production of a critical edition of the Hebrew Bible by casting a wider net that gathers in all the available evidence, rather than relying on a diplomatic (BHS) or eclectic (JC) usSe of prime MSS.

In the case of the Greek scriptures, a vast amount of evidence parallel to that of actual biblical MSS exists in the quotations from the Bible found in the writings of Christian scholars, especially the Fathers of the Church. Do they support some variants, or should they be mistrusted as quotations from memory, that could be in error (or even exegetical fiddling)? The same doubt hangs over the parallel enterprise of gathering quotations from the Bible from rabbinic writings. They are not usually included in the text-critical apparatus. They don’t provide an apparatus for the critical Hebrew University Bible, “as these do not necessarily reflect readings that would have been known to the rabbis. Rather, these instances reflect an exegetical play with readings that would have been possible in the context” (Emanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992] 35).

Has this possible source of evidence for the text of the Hebrew Bible been dismissed too peremptorily? The volume under review reports eighty-four Non-masoretic Bible Citations in Midrash ha-Gadol. Each case is of interest in its own way. Von Mutius examines the affinities of the variants with other evidence, including the versions. As an example, I refer to the case for relocating Isaiah 38:22 in front of 38:8 (106–8). This verse has always puzzled Isaiah scholars. The author propounds the principle:
Furthermore, it is possible for non-masoretic biblical quota-tions to be authentic, even if they are not attested in the old versions, provided they are quoted unchanged at least twice in rabbinic literature with the same deviations at different places and in different exegetical-homiletic contexts (xx).
He also attaches weight to a variant that agrees with a Qumran attestation, since it is quite unlikely that a later rabbi would have access to Qumran scriptures.

Even if textual critics have reservations as to whether any of these variants deserve inclusion in an apparatus, let alone consideration as possible incorporation in a new critical text, they are nevertheless of great interest for the history of interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. It would be helpful if we had more studies of this kind.

Review by
Donvale VIC 3111